|Subject: Oxford &Thames Valley|
I come from the Thames Valley (Marlow), and would agree that Oxford is worth the visit. However, I would circumnavigate the whole driving/parking exercise by taking the train. Both local and intercity trains stop at Oxford, and it is only an hour or so from London on the fast trains.
Things to do in Oxford: yes, the crowds are a bit insane, but dive off down some side streets and you do start to lose them. Head to Christ Church college, and the meadows. From here you can walk down to the river and see punts.
By The Queen's College, is The Queen's College coffee house. I confess I have not been for a while, but it is traditionally a smoky student hang out. Hold your breath, have a hot chocolate and take it in!
Good inexpensive eating in Oxford is relatively hard to find it is true. My suggestion would be, weather depending, take a picnic to the river. You can easily buy picnic stuff in the covered market (central, ask any local person), or in a supermarket or (and this is a TOP TIP for the UK), go to a branch of Boots. This is a chemist (drugstore) that does great pre-packaged sandwiches, drinks etc. Cheap, convenient and tasty.
Bookshops are a must: Blackwell's art bookshop is particularly interesting if you are into art/architecture/fashion. And the main shop is fairly mind-boggling. There may be bigger, but there aren't many better. Both of these are on Broad Street (there are 8 different branches of Blackwells in Oxford).
OK - so, where to stay in the Thames Valley? It is a large area, and can be pricy so it is hard to know where to suggest. Avoid Reading (the other large city between Oxford and London). Marlow (http://www.marlowtown.co.uk/visimarl.html) is lovely, but there are not many places to stay. If you opted for a B&B, I would try and get one that was definitely IN the town. You could try Henley, (http://www.henley-on-thames.org.uk/accom/default.htm) which is slightly more famous, and does have some hotels that won't break the bank.
Other suggestions: Goring &Streatley, lovely small towns/villages opposite each other, near Reading. There are also hotels in Maidenhead (although stick close to the river in and around a part called Bray), and you might possibly enjoy the village of Cookham as a stop off point.
This website may help you: http://www.viamichelin.com/viamichelin/gbr/jsp/tur/MaTourismTour_ThamesValley.jsp
So, to my mind, Oxford is certainly worth the visit, but you might not get much extra out of staying there. There are train connections from all the other places (you will have to change trains at Reading probably) and they are all attractive small, riverside towns.
Jonathan - now in Duesseldorf, but with a heart in the Thames Valley!
Jonathan Turton London/Duesseldorf